The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge of Stone and Magic: Chapter 37

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Kevin stood on a low rise looking over the shallow tidal flats that led, now, to what was truly the tiny island of Lyndesfarne. The tremendous blast that resulted from the closure of the crossing had reduced the Old Bridge and its connecting causeways to rubble, quantities of which were still visible in surprising places around the area. However, the bulk of the shattered stonework had not travelled so far, and blocks large and small now marked out a path that could, with care, be walked at low tide.

The New Bridge had suffered even more, and the deceptively slender reinforced concrete tower which had supported the roadway on the mainland side had been reduced to a broken stump, now barely visible at high tide. Much of the metal and concrete that had formed the bridge itself had been sucked into the maelstrom triggered by the closure of the crossing, never to be seen again. The supporting tower on the Lyndesfarne side was of course invisible, since that structure was now not part of this world at all.

The vast concrete slabs on the coast which had formed the cable stays which had supported the New Bridge were still in place, although the tangled remains of the cables themselves had been removed in an orchestrated clean-up operation which had been both discreet and efficient. The fissured concrete surface was already becoming weathered and overgrown with moss and rough grasses, and soon, Kevin judged, they would be easily mistaken for natural rock formations.

The maelstrom had also severely damaged the plantings and landscaping which had been newly placed just after the main part of the New Bridge had been completed. Large numbers of trees and bushes had been uprooted or shredded by the hurricane force winds. A few years later, however, and the undergrowth was beginning to re-establish itself, forming a less regimented and much more wild-looking forest.

Elsewhere, the landscape looked as it had done for centuries: dry stone walls separating fields of green grass where sheep grazed peacefully. A tranquil scene and one, Kevin knew, which was almost entirely man-made. A series of low hillocks surrounding a depression on one hillside, for example, marked a long-disused quarry, probably the source for much of the stone that had been used to make the walls to restrain the sheep. The hillocks themselves were spoil heaps, fragments and off-cuts of rock from the quarry that had been discarded and now buried in the thin soil which supported the grass that the sheep ate.

The grasslands too were a deliberate human construction, with encroaching heather being rigorously burned on a yearly basis. Any saplings that dared to set down roots would inevitably be cropped by the hungry sheep; without the sheep, the entire area would revert to scrubby woodlands. It was all part of the "countryside as machine for making food" viewpoint which would be natural enough to the farming community, although anathema to well-meaning but naïve townies.

Kevin had often visited the site of the crossing to the Other World, tramping the coastline to north and south, or watching out over the straights – at once eerily familiar yet disconcertingly different in so many details – from this or that vantage point.

One stopping-point on his walks to the south was a derelict concrete bunker which had once housed large naval guns. It was a construction from the Second World War, no doubt, intended to protect the coastline of Britain from invasion - and the island of Lyndesfarne, too. Only parts of the fortifications were intact, and Kevin wondered what had happened to destroy the remainder. The steel reinforced concrete was eighteen inches or more thick, but sections had been blown apart - from the inside, as far as Kevin could tell.

He never met anyone on the footpaths and trails as he walked, although they seemed to be well-travelled, judging by the trampled grass and the occasional boot-print. At least, that had been true until six months ago, or so; now the pathways seemed more overgrown with little evidence to suggest that anyone ever passed this way.

He had also explored the island itself, although there was little enough to see. On several occasions, he carefully checked the local tide tables then moved as quickly as he could along the roughly marked path over the mudflats. At low time and in dry weather, this was an easy enough walk although, on one occasion, on the way back he had been hit by a sudden squally shower. With the rain stinging his eyes, it was difficult to follow the stone markers, and he realised he could easily have wandered away from the safe passage and would perhaps have been in grave danger.

There was not a great deal to survey on the island other than the ruined castle squatting on its promontory. Kevin had explored the ruins on several visits, and knew that the castle that now stood on this naturally defensible position by the sea was much smaller and a lot more decrepit than the edifice that had stood in the same spot when the crossing was open.

Kevin was unclear whether the castle was actually this broken down before the explosion, but he had seen that several huge stone blocks had been dislodged fairly recently. Not that it made much difference; the lichen-covered stonework that now lay partially hidden by the grass and heather could have been there for a year or a century. There was no evidence of recent human occupation, and the birds and other wildlife that had made the broken walls and ruined towers their home were rarely disturbed by any visitors.

Elsewhere the rocks and shoals that dotted the waters all around the island provided resting-places for seals and a vast profusion of seabirds. The treacherous waters still kept even the most fervent fisherman and dinghy sailors at bay, and the whole area was still one large no-go area for shipping of all kinds. On the other hand, Kevin considered, this physical isolation added to the immense sense of peace and privacy that the whole area seemed to exude.

On this occasion, Kevin had already decided against attempting the crossing. The tide tables suggested that the sea was already fast encroaching on the sands. He might easily make it to the island if he started right now but he would have a long and rather chilly wait until well after dark until the tide had withdrawn far enough for him to return.

Instead, he had once again visited the site of the New Bridge to inspect the rapidly-healing damage that had been inflicted by the closure of the crossing. The tar-macadam roadway which had been laid to allow heavy trucks to reach the warehouses at the new crossing point had been torn up and the way itself was now little more than a muddy farm track.

The debris from the warehouse buildings themselves, whose flimsy construction had been devastated by the explosion, had been carefully removed. There was little more than the occasional concrete fence post in the undergrowth to mark the locations of the secure compounds where loading and unloading had once been undertaken. There was little enough to see, and Kevin was convinced that in a very few years it would be nearly impossible to tell that anything out of the ordinary had been located here.

After a few hours exploring, and finding little of note, Kevin made his way back by tramping the barely distinguishable pathway along the coast, eventually reaching the point where once the old causeway had once reached the coast. The sun was getting low in the sky and the wind was whipping across the sands, now mostly covered by the encroaching tide.

After watching the seagulls riding the wind, wheeling and diving, for a few minutes, Kevin turned and walked back along the roadway, past the so-called Tourist Information Office which had acted as a guard post for the Guardians. It was now an empty shell, its windows blown out and the roof ripped off by the force of the explosion. The building was slightly more derelict than the unaided destructive force had left it. Any debris, anything incriminating that might have hinted at the existence of the Other World had been carefully removed.

Kevin understood there had once been a basement - perhaps more than one - for storage under the guardhouse. On previous visits, he had explored the ruins carefully but even his trained architect's eye had been able to detect no sign of any structure below ground. Perhaps, he considered, he had been mistaken in his understanding or maybe the clean-up operation had been even more thorough than he imagined.

Kevin picked his way over the broken road surface that had formed the access to the causeway then made his way, windswept and a little tired, to his car. He had left the new Volvo in the same walled car park that he had used so many times during his visits when the crossing was open, when he was engaged in the creation of the New Bridge.

There were no other cars in the field, but a slender woman with long mousey hair - not quite light enough to be blonde - blowing loose stood next to his vehicle, dressed in a long cape which blew in the wind, a style which - if he didn't know better - he would have thought worn by a person from the Other World. She had her back to him and was apparently surveying the field and pastures dotted with sheep. A large and heavy-looking rucksack sat at her feet.

The mysterious woman turned, saw Kevin hurrying towards her, then waved and called something that he did not catch over the noise of the wind. As he drew closer, he realised that he did not recognise her at all; she was quite unlike any woman he had ever seen before. Even so, there was something about her, something so desperately attractive, something below the surface which seemed achingly familiar.

"Kevin, my love," she said, smiling, "You haven't changed a bit."

He took both her hands and looking deeply into her eyes, taking in Tanji's new, unchangeable appearance.

"Has it been long enough?" he asked her.

She smiled, her face shaping itself so differently from the Tanji of old, but somehow still recognisably hers.

"It is, my love," she said gently, "Perhaps it has been for six months or more. I felt I should err on the side of caution. But here I am, now."

They kissed passionately, Kevin experiencing for the first time a sensation at once so similar and so different from the experiences lodged so carefully in his memory. Disengaging, he stood back to take another look at the love of his life.

"It worked, then," he said eventually.

"It did, my love," she replied as gently as before.

Tanji's voice was different, too, as was everything about her - just as she had planned all those years ago. To the casual observer - or even to a carefully trained observer, like the erstwhile Guardians - the woman standing in front of him was not Tanji.

On the eve of the closure of the last crossing, she had used her contacts, through her old friend Kithyn - a woman who definitely owed Tanji a favour or two - she had managed to acquire some extreme shape-changing magic through what sounded to Kevin like black-market sources. The dodgy magic had given her the appearance of someone else - no, the actual body structure of someone else. It had irrevocably changed every part of her.

In her new guise, and still feeling groggy with the physical after-effects, Tanji had struggled over the crossing just before the closure, hidden in plain sight amongst the confusion of other refugees and travellers desperately making their way home. She had taken her place in the society of England, remaining as invisible as anyone could in the melting-pot of everyday life, and taking care to stay away from the remnants of the Guardians and the other organisations that had controlled the crossing between the Two Worlds.

Where she was, not even Kevin knew - or even if she had successfully made it to his world before the crossing was explosively dismantled. He had taken the fact that she had made it to this world as an article of faith, just as he assured himself that she had remained undetected.

Now, years later, so few people knew anything about the vanished Other World, and perhaps even fewer cared in the slightest. Tanji had finally felt it safe to return to the site of the crossing, the one place in their shared history that Kevin visited on a regular basis, and where eventually she would surely encounter him.

Kevin again took Tanji's hands in his own.

"Let's go home," he said.

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